Date of Award

January 2016

Degree Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type

Master Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Justice Studies

First Advisor

Travis Linnemann

Department Affiliation

Justice Studies

Second Advisor

Kenneth D. Tunnell

Department Affiliation

Justice Studies

Third Advisor

Kishonna L. Gray

Department Affiliation

Justice Studies


Rural southern violence has long been a sensationalized issue. From the Hatfield and McCoy feud to Deliverance, social issues unique to the rural south have received a significant amount of focus within modern popular culture. One of the most recent and popular examples of southern culture and violence is the television network FX’s Justified, set in Harlan County, Kentucky. The storyline follows US Marshal Raylan Givens as he is sent back to Kentucky after a misstep during his tenure in Miami. After arriving in his home state, he finds himself constantly drawn back to his hometown of Harlan, Kentucky, whether it is through work assignments or his personal life. The criminals that Givens comes in contact with are colorful individuals who are active members in the illegal activities that pervade this rural community, such as the manufacturing and sale of illegal drugs and illegal arms trading. The real Harlan County is nestled in the mountains of Kentucky and is only accessible by state and local highways. Access to stable employment was limited in this area due to Harlan’s mountainous geography so, once the coal companies established themselves, individuals were able to start building lives on the stable wages that they were earning. After conflicts between coal company executives and coal miners reached an all-time high, violent crime increased significantly due to strikes and general frustration toward the coal companies. The riots that erupted among law enforcement, mine company security, and strikers led to this area being referred to as ‘Bloody Harlan’. Even though these events occurred in the 1930s and violent crime in Harlan has decreased, this reputation remains among those in the region. Since the viewership of Justified is not localized to rural areas, but rather encompasses the majority of the nation, this often leads viewers to make assumptions about rural crime trends that are not statistically valid. This mixed methods project will study the current cultural and criminal landscape of Harlan County, Kentucky and will compare those findings with what is presented in a sample of Justified episodes to find how rural crime is presented to viewers as opposed to its reality. The impact of social institutions within these communities will also be addressed.